While “prebiotics” and “probiotics” sound like tech jargon, they’re both actually ingredients that can benefit your health. Your digestive tract contains trillions of bacteria, some which are good and others that are bad. Both prebiotics and probiotics are needed to keep your digestive system in working order. Here’s a rundown of the benefits of each and how you can get them from the foods you eat.

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are used by your gut bacteria to enhance health. They’re mainly derived from carbohydrates that cannot be digested by humans. Prebiotics help fuel the production of probiotic bacteria, which are live bacteria that live in your digestive tract and help maintain a healthy gut by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria and getting rid of potentially harmful germs.

Sources of prebiotics mainly include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains such as:

  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Wheat
  • Beans and peas
  • Nuts
  • Artichokes
  • Oats
  • Tomatoes

Some prebiotics have been added (or fortified) into foods such as bread, cereal, and yogurt. If you aren’t sure if a food contains prebiotics, check the ingredient list on the label for any of the following terms: galactooligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides, oligofructose, chicory fiber, and inulin.

Prebiotics also assist in calcium absorption, helping you stay regular (you know what we mean), and keeping the cells that line your gut healthy.

It’s recommended to get your prebiotics from whole foods (like those listed above). Start slow and work your way up. Consuming too many prebiotics at one time can lead to gas or bloating.

What Are Probiotics?

As we mentioned above, your gut is filled with good bacteria that help balance the bad bacteria. Probiotics are known as the good bacteria as they keep your gut healthy. In addition, when good bacteria are destroyed (like when you take antibiotics) probiotics can help replace them. Some conditions probiotics can help with include irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea caused by microorganisms, and diarrhea caused by antibiotics. In addition, probiotics also can lead to fewer digestive issues like gas and bloating. There is still so much to learn about probiotics and many studies are examining various strains and health conditions probiotics may help with.

You can find probiotics in fermented foods including:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi

Besides food, you can find probiotics in supplement form in two main forms: lactobacillus or bifidobacteria. They have different benefits, so ask your health professional (doctor or registered dietitian) which is best for you. Side effects may include stomachache, diarrhea, gas, and bloating for several days until your body adjusts to them. Probiotics may also trigger and allergic reaction. Always discuss any supplements with your health professional before taking.

Getting the Best of Both Worlds

In order to keep probiotic bacteria happy, they need to feed on prebiotics. Since both are needed to maintain a healthy gut, there is no winner in this food fight—like a nil-nil soccer game, it’s a tie. Your best bet? Eat a combination of both prebiotic and probiotic foods on a regular basis.


Chart Prebiotics vs probiotics